Friday, January 20, 2017
Who decides what is fake news?
The German clampdown on ‘misinformation’ is a threat to free speech
By Sabine Beppler-Spahl
Fake news has become big news in Germany. Facebook in particular is being accused of facilitating the spread of hoaxes and misinformation. According to government officials and media commentators, this fake news could influence Germany’s elections later this year.
A Breitbart article claiming that a mob of Muslim immigrants burned down a church in the city of Dortmund is held up as an example of fake news. ‘Fake news: how Breitbart manipulates facts and lets a mob riot’, said one headline. ‘Politicians are alarmed’, the report continues, pointing out that the head of the electoral body Bundeswahlleiter, which oversees elections in Germany, thinks fake news could impact how people vote.
Concern about fake news really gained momentum following the US presidential elections. In December, Thomas Oppermann of Germany’s Social Democratic Party suggested Facebook should face fines of up to €500,000 for posts containing fake news or hate speech that aren’t removed within 24 hours. German justice minister Heiko Maas has called for tougher EU regulations: social-media owners should be held criminally liable for failing to remove hate speech, he says. Der Spiegel says officials have discussed opening a Defence Centre Against Disinformation.
But what, exactly, would be banned? What would Facebook and other sites be forced to take down? What is fake news? It is striking that in almost all German reports on this issue, the English term ‘fake news’ is used, as if this were a new phenomenon, thus requiring a new phrase. In the past, when a German newspaper or magazine published false information, the German words Falschmeldung or Zeitungsente would have been used. One of the most famous cases of Falschmeldung was the publication of the fake Hitler’s diaries in 1982. There have been countless others, including TV broadcaster ARD, who had to apologise for a series of incorrect reports about the conflict in Ukraine. Germany’s adoption of the English term feeds a sense of alarm; it implies that Germany is under threat from a novel phenomenon, and one that largely comes from without, with Mark Zuckerberg, Putin and Trump held up as instigators.
It is precisely because of its malleability that ‘fake news’ is a dangerous concept. If a Defence Centre Against Disinformation were only to concern itself with plain and imminently dangerous lies – like the one that spread after the Berlin terror attack in December, when a WhatsApp message warned of an imminent new attack on a shopping centre in Neukölln – then it wouldn’t actually be needed. For it is already an offence in Germany to spread such immediately threatening misinformation.
But there is more to ‘fake news’ than just lies. What is now discussed as ‘fake news’ is not simply completely made-up things, which should enjoy freedom too, though of course they must be challenged; news that comes in a certain style or with a certain opinion, one that the elites do not like, now also runs the risk of being branded ‘fake news’.
Consider the Breitbart report on the burning of the church in Dortmund on New Year’s Eve. It was sloppy, prejudiced, and in parts wrong, but it wasn’t really a lie. It was based on a report in Ruhr Nachrichten, a local paper in Dortmund, which it exaggerated in a tendentious way. Breitbart claimed that a mob of a 1,000 men, chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ had set the roof of Germany’s oldest church on fire. The original German report said groups of mainly foreign young men had roamed the streets of the city before joining another group in a local square; there were at least 1,000 people. From within this group, some fireworks were thrown at the police. On a different street, probably as a result of fireworks, a fire started on the netting on the scaffolding surrounding the church. Firefighters put it out.
The main problem is that Breitbart misled readers into thinking that the situation in Dortmund was out of control because immigrants were running amok. In fact, the night had been like most New Year nights in Germany, as the police later pointed out. Young men roaming the streets and setting of fireworks is a normal part of Germany’s New Year celebrations.
Breitbart is known for being provocative and insincere. But to clamp down on its stories in the name of protecting the German public from fake news would be chilling. Those calling on the state to tackle misinformation seem to believe there are some people — in the political and media class — who have that rare insight into what is true, and what is false. And who therefore know what the German public should and should not be allowed to read.
Is the political class really all-knowing? Ironically, Thomas de Maiziere, our interior minister and one of the main proponents of a war on misinformation, has himself been accused of spreading fake news. An internet platform called Hoaxmap, which aims to expose fake news, has included some of de Maiziere’s postings and comments in its lists. In one, he said 30 per cent of those claiming to be Syrian refugees were not really Syrians; in another he accused German doctors of undermining deportations by frivolously handing out sick notes to migrants. As Hoaxmap says, these claims have not been substantiated.
It isn’t only politicians who are worried about ‘fake news’; the media are, too. In a piece titled ‘The Power of Truth’, in Berliner Zeitung, Brigitte Fehrle wrote about how much she is fearing this year — ‘because of the poisonous mood… because we know the extent to which social media now dominate the public’.
In an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, titled ‘Yes, Mark, Facebook does bear responsibility for Donald Trump’s victory’, the editors of Wired Germany demand that Facebook add warnings to unserious news reports. Is it any wonder politicians feel they have the right to censor ‘fake news’, or just exaggerated stories, when the media are effectively calling on them to do so?
There are some critical voices. The German Journalists’ Association says talk of a government campaign against misinformation is ‘gibberish’. But for the most part the media are going along with, and stirring up, the fake-news panic.
Traditional news outlets have been under great pressure from social media in recent years. They have lost readers, listeners and viewers to internet platforms. They have also found themselves being criticised more. Many media people were shocked when supporters of the right-wing movement Pegida started ranting against ‘the press’, sometimes using the term Lügenpresse (‘the lying press’). They were accusing the established media of telling lies before the term ‘fake news’ was coined.
The traditional media’s attacks on social media can be seen as a fightback against these trends, an attempt to say: ‘We are still the serious media, and you are unserious.’
The warnings against fake news also reveal the establishment’s fear that things are spinning out of control. They especially fear losing their grip on the public’s imagination — this is what Fehrle meant when she wrote of social media’s new hold over the public. The most striking expression of this fear came with last year’s spate of sexual assaults by Muslim men on women in Cologne, when the authorities went out of their way to cover up the attacks. The paternalistic sentiment behind this cover-up — to withhold certain information or ideas from the public — is still strong. So in response to the Breitbart report on the burning of the church, one politician said: ‘The danger is that these stories spread with incredible speed and take on lives of their own.’
This is another way of saying that these reports will stir up dangerous public passions, so the authorities must keep a check on the flow of information.
Ironically, it is this deep distrust in the public’s powers of judgement that has led to ‘fake news’, or simply alternative news, becoming so popular: people are turning away from established narratives. There will always be liars and attention-seekers. We should challenge them, of course, in the public sphere, not with fines and bans. Even more importantly, we must challenge all attempts at censorship.
A generation of offended snowflakes
While most secular lefties today would want nothing to do with such (in their view) outdated notions as the Ten Commandments, they in fact still cling to a few moral absolutes which they insist must remain inviolate. One of them especially stands out like a sore thumb: "Thou shalt not offend anyone".
This is the one commandment these folks demand above all else. They think they have some sort of universal and absolute right never to be offended, and woe to those who dare to offend. These folks insist that they must be protected from any form of offence, and want swift punishment on anyone who is deemed to be offensive.
This of course is all part of rampant political correctness and the war on truth. The only thing that matters for these delicate little petals is that their feelings are not hurt. But the trouble is, they take offence at anything and everything. It is a Brave New World of thought crimes, hate speech, and thought police.
Everyone must be super careful about what they think or say, lest the Offence Police go after them. It is getting to the point where we dare not say anything about anything, for fear of upsetting and offending someone. No wonder so many folks never open their mouths any more – they fear the consequences for merely expressing a point of view.
Free speech and free thought is now verboten in our Big Brother world of "acceptable" thought and speech. Dare to resist the official PC orthodoxy and you will be punished. Examples of this are now legion, and I have featured plenty of them on my site. Consider two more recent cases of this insanity in action – once again found on our college campuses.
The first story, from the UK, is a real shocker, with the headline alone enough to make you question the mental state of those in charge there: "Bible students are warned...you may find the crucifixion too upsetting!" Here is how this story begins:
Theology students are being warned in advance that they may see distressing images while studying the crucifixion of Jesus, giving them a chance to leave if they fear being upset. It is part of a trend at a number of universities for 'trigger warnings' issued by tutors to let students know about course content that might prove disturbing. Advocates say it helps to protect the mental health of vulnerable students.
But critics say it is creating a generation of 'snowflake' students unable to cope with the harsh realities of the world.
The University of Glasgow, part of the elite Russell Group, confirmed that trigger warnings are issued to theology students studying 'Creation to Apocalypse: Introduction to the Bible (Level 1)'. According to university documents, a lecture on Jesus and cinema sometimes 'contains graphic scenes of the crucifixion, and this is flagged up to students beforehand'….
Students are told 'you can, of course, leave a class at any time should you need to, but please check in… later that day to let us know how you are'.
The article offers other examples at the university where trigger warnings are provided. Thankfully not everyone was impressed with all this. Liz Smith, a Scottish Tory education spokesman put it this way: "Universities are meant to be a place of learning where concepts are challenged and tricky subjects debated. That will become increasingly difficult if they go too far out their way to ensure everything survives the politically correct test. Some of the examples set out here are patently ridiculous."
They certainly are. But it seems Western universities are now specialising in such ridiculous and moronic PC foolishness. Consider another UK school where the stranglehold of political correctness is destroying higher education and turning students into perpetually offended cry-babies:
They are titans of philosophy, without whose work an understanding of the subject is all but inconceivable. But now students at a University of London college are demanding that such seminal figures as Plato, Descartes, Immanuel Kant and Bertrand Russell should be largely dropped from the curriculum simply because they are white.
These may be the names that underpin civilisation, yet the student union at the world-renowned School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is insisting that when studying philosophy 'the majority of philosophers on our courses' should be from Africa and Asia. The students say it is in order to 'decolonise' the 'white institution' that is their college.
Good grief. Um, isn't that a form of racism? Oh yeah, I forgot: only whites are guilty of racism it seems. Thankfully there were a few level-headed voices to be heard in protest. British philosopher Roger Scruton for example said this:
This suggests ignorance and a determination not to overcome that ignorance. You can't rule out a whole area of intellectual endeavour without having investigated it and clearly they haven't investigated what they mean by white philosophy. If they think there is a colonial context from which Kant's Critique of Pure Reason arose, I would like to hear it.
And Sir Anthony Seldon, the vice-chancellor of Buckingham University said this: "There is a real danger political correctness is getting out of control. We need to understand the world as it was and not to rewrite history as some might like it to have been."
The university used to be a place of learning, of gaining knowledge, of being exposed to differing ideas and perspectives, but today it is largely about enforcing a radical secular left agenda and forcing students into a diabolical groupthink, with no deviation allowed from the accepted ideology.
As Thomas Sowell once put it, "Education is not merely neglected in many of our schools today, but is replaced to a great extent by ideological indoctrination." Or as Scruton put it elsewhere: "Tenured professors enjoy all the privileges of the academy in return for relentless debunking of the civilization that made this possible."
In a 2000 essay on "The origins of political correctness" William S. Lind said this: "The totalitarian nature of Political Correctness is revealed nowhere more clearly than on college campuses, many of which at this point are small ivy-covered North Koreas..."
All this spells not only the death of higher education, but the death of the West. As Malcolm Muggeridge put it, "Whereas other civilisations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense."
It is getting to the place where concerned parents who want their children to be able to think and reason, and not emote and always feel offended, had best keep them out of most Western universities. Scary times indeed.
Sweden's leading shopping mall is deemed a no-go zone, with police blaming gangs of unaccompanied minors who have arrived in the country for spate of attacks
Sweden's leading shopping mall has been deemed a no-go zone amid a spike in violence police say has been caused by unaccompanied migrants.
Police are on high alert patrolling the Nordstan mall in Gothenburg after a spate of incidents involving staff and shoppers being threatened by gangs.
In some cases, the number of youngsters outnumber the police and the rise in the sinister behaviour has seen the sales take a hit.
Many shoppers are now afraid to even visit the complex, according to RT, and even officers are being threatened by the gangs.
'We have seen an increase since last autumn, with mostly unaccompanied minors who are staying here in Nordstan,' one of the police managers, Jonas Bergqvist, told Expressen.
'In the evening they deal drugs and violence between fractions sometimes occurs.
'If there are conflicts from their home countries, they bring them here.'
The trouble appears to start at around 8pm - the time shops shut for the day - when groups of up to 150 teens descend upon the mall.
Police say the rise coincides with the increased number of unaccompanied migrants entering the country.
A number of those involved are said to be youths from Syria, Afghanistan and Morocco, according to RT.
Among the alarming incidents include a youngster and a shopkeeper who were robbed with a broken class held to their throats.
Added to the chaos is the fact that police are finding it increasingly difficult to charge the offenders due to the lack of identification, meaning the teenagers are merely handed over to social services.
Officer Rikard Sorensen told RT: 'I've had people in front of me that look like they are 35, but who claim to be 15.
'I can't prove they're lying so we have to release them,' Rikard Sorensen, another officer.'
The troubles have seen the mall labeled a no-go zone, according to Expressen.
An area is listed as such if there have been dangerous cases of muggings, robberies, harassment, and sexual assault.
Strange case in Scotland
Landmark civil rape case ‘will help more women find justice’. The burden of proof in civil cases is lower
A landmark court ruling that two footballers are rapists, despite their never having faced a criminal trial, will open the way for other women to gain justice, a senior lawyer has said.
Denise Clair, 30, waived her right to anonymity to sue David Goodwillie and David Robertson in the first civil case of its kind in Scotland.
Ms Clair, a mother of one, took the unprecedented step after the Crown Office declined to prosecute the pair, claiming there was insufficient evidence. She was vindicated after a judge at the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled on Tuesday that they were rapists and awarded her £100,000.
However, Goodwillie yesterday insisted he was innocent and said that he was considering an appeal.
Julie Bishop distances Australia from global statement on Israel-Palestine peace
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has distanced the Turnbull government from a communique agreed by ministers and diplomats of 70 nations, including Australia, concerning the pathways to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The concluding statement called on both sides to "take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground", including acts of violence and the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.
The communique specifically welcomed resolution 2334, passed by the UN Security Council last month, which declared the settlements violated international law and called on Israel to immediately cease all settlement activity.
Following the conference, Ms Bishop distanced the Australian government from the contents of the concluding statement, insisting the government did not necessarily agree with everything its diplomats had agreed to in Paris.
"Australia was represented at the conference by diplomatic officials from the Australian embassy in Paris," Ms Bishop told Fairfax Media.
"While the Australian government was represented at the Paris conference this does not mean we agree with every element of the final statement."
Without specifically mentioning the conference's endorsement of resolution 2334, Ms Bishop noted the Coalition did not support "one-sided resolutions targeting Israel".
"The most important priority must be a resumption of direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians for a two-state solution as soon as possible," she said.
Australia became one of the few countries other than Israel to condemn the New Zealand-sponsored resolution 2334, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull labelling it "one-sided" and "deeply unsettling".
Crucially, the resolution was allowed to pass because the US - Israel's foremost ally on the security council - did not use its veto power and instead chose to abstain.
Sunday's meeting in Paris did not involve Israel or the Palestinians and was dismissed in advance by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as "futile" and "rigged".
Chairman of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the communique and said the endorsement of resolution 2334 was among a number of "positive elements" in the text, Israeli media reported.
But Britain, attending the conference as an observer, also expressed reservations about the final agreement, arguing it was a time to "encourage conditions for peace" rather than entrench hardened positions.
"We have particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them," the British Foreign Office said in a statement.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault used the summit to warn Mr Trump against his proposal to relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, calling it a provocative and unilateral move.
Ms Bishop would not comment on Mr Trump's pronouncement but reiterated the Australian government had no plans to move its own embassy in Israel, despite the call from former prime minister Tony Abbott.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.